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Gender Differences in the Need to Belong: Different Cognitive Representations of the Same Social Groups

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Social belonging is important for well-being (Baumeister & Leary 1995) and the group importance model of social belongingness suggests that women and men value different types of social groups to satisfy this need. Research on this potential difference has shown inconsistent results (e.g., Gabriel & Gardner 1999; Grace & Cramer 2003; Madson & Trafimow 2001). However, the cognitive representation model suggests that women and men have different mental images of the same social group. To resolve the inconsistencies, Foels and Tomcho (2009) proposed that a gender difference exists in the cognitive representations of social groups. This cognitive representation model proposes that women have a mental image of a group as several different exemplars with whom they interact (e.g., my sister, my dad), whereas men have an image of one overall prototype with which they interact (e.g., my family). Women may be more likely to engage in specific representations of others in the group whereas men may be more likely to engage in diffuse representations of the group as a whole. This study examines this cognitive representation hypothesis using a priming study with reaction time measures, and assesses whether social groups are cognitively associated with different types of information for women and men.
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  EXPERIMENTAL METHOD: STUDY 1. Gender Differences in the Need to Belong: Different Cognitive Representations of the Same Social Groups Brett Rustin Nielsen Rob Foels Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Social belonging is important for well-being (Baumeister & Leary 1995) and the group importance model of social belongingness suggests that women and men value different types of social groups to satisfy this need. Research on this potential difference has shown inconsistent results (e.g., Gabriel & Gardner 1999; Grace & Cramer 2003; Madson & Trafimow 2001). However, the cognitive representation model suggests that women and men have different mental images of the same social group. To resolve the inconsistencies, Foels and Tomcho (2009) proposed that a gender difference exists in the cognitive representations of social groups. This cognitive representation model proposes that women have a mental image of a group as several different exemplars with whom they interact (e.g., my sister, my dad), whereas men have an image of one overall prototype with which they interact (e.g., my family). Women may be more likely to engage in specific representations of others in the group whereas men may be more likely to engage in diffuse representations of the group as a whole. This study examines this cognitive representation hypothesis using a priming study with reaction time measures, and assesses whether social groups are cognitively associated with different types of information for women and men. Participants : 41 college students (22 women, 19 men) received course credit for participating in a study on Reaction Time Judgment. One participant was dropped from analyses due to responses that were 3 standard deviations beyond the mean reaction time, leaving 22 women and 18 men upon which analyses were based (analyses with and without this participant showed similar results). Participants were primed with groups that were relational (family, friends) and collective (team, students), then measured their reaction times to targets that were specific (couple, dual) and diffuse (several, many). The methods of this study followed Blair and Banaji (1996), who showed that reaction times to stereotypical information were slower when primes and targets were conflicting (e.g., Steve - nurse) than when they were matching (e.g., Susan - nurse). This experiment similarly expected that reaction times in general would be slower when the group prime and the 4 specificity of the target conflicted (e.g., relational group - diffuse target) than when the prime and target matched (e.g., relational group - specific target). Any deviation from this pattern would provide insight into how women and men cognitively represent their groups. Procedure: For each trial the reaction time program displayed a fixation point for 500 ms, followed by a relational or collective group prime (e.g., friends, team) for 50 ms. The prime word was followed by a blank screen for 100 ms, then followed by a specific or diffuse target word (e.g., dual, several). The target word remained displayed until the participant indicated a response, as described below. Following the response, a blank screen was displayed for 1 sec before the next trial started. Participants were seated in cubicles containing a keyboard and digital monitor, and were told that they would see a fixation point in the center of the screen, followed by two words, one presented after the other. Participants were told to do nothing with the first word (relational or collective group prime), and simply respond to the second word (specific or diffuse target) that remained on the screen (see Blair & Banaji, 1996). The monitor instructed participants to press either the J or F key on the keyboard to indicate whether the target word indicated 2 (i.e., specific) or more than 2 (i.e., diffuse). The key for this judgment was counterbalanced across the two trial blocks. Participants completed 2 trial blocks of 20 judgments each, with 4 practice judgments followed by 16 experimental judgments. The 16 experimental judgments were composed of combinations of the 4 primes and 4 target words. Results: The Experimenter first examined the accuracy of responses in terms of correctly indicating whether the target word indicated 2 or more than 2. A 3 factor ANOVA indicated that there were no main effects nor interactions, all F  s < 1.50, all  p s > .22. Women (89%) and men (91%) both correctly identified the specificity of the target word approximately 90% of the time.  Discussion: The results supported their prediction that women would respond more slowly than men to diffuse targets, but this occurred only following a collective prime. For both women and men it was a quick judgment when deciding whether a target was a diffuse word following relational primes. For men it was an even quicker judgment when making this decision following collective primes. Thus it appears that only men represent their collective ingroups as diffuse prototypes, which mirrors men's cognitive views of outgroups (Lorenzi-Cioldi, Eagly, & Stewart, 1995). The results provide direct evidence that women and men have different levels of specificity in their cognitive associations for collective groups. Theoretical Implications: Despite the fact that there are gender differences in social belongingness, the literature shows mixed results across studies. The present study was able to replicate these mixed results in such that they only found an interaction when diffuse information was involved. These results suggest three things. First, there is a cognitive element to belongingness as evidenced by different response times following different prime-target combinations. This supports the view that individuals have cognitive representations of relational and collective groups (e.g., Andersen & Chen, 2002; Mullen, 1991). Second, there are gender differences in these cognitive representations. Third, women have a more specific cognitive representation of their collective groups, as evidenced by their slower response time to diffuse targets. The need to belong is a fundamental human need that requires frequent, meaningful interaction with others for optimal well-being (Baumeister & Leary 1995). Failure to meet this need is related to negative outcomes (Bagwell et al., 2005). Therefore understanding any gender differences in how social groups are used to meet belongingness needs, may have important consequences for understanding well-being. *********************************
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